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Silence from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander
by Joe Milton
for ASTRONOMY NOW
Posted: 2 March 2010


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We all struggle with long northern winters here on Earth, but enduring the harsh northern Martian winter may have proved too much for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander.

Stages in the seasonal disappearance of surface ice from the ground around the Phoenix Mars Lander are visible in these images taken on 8 and 25 February by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

Phoenix landed on Mars on 25 May 2008 and operated successfully for around five months – two months longer than expected. Among other data collected from the planet’s surface, the craft detected water in the Martian soil. However, Phoenix is powered by solar energy and waning sunlight eventually led it to shut down.

It was not designed to survive the extreme conditions of the Martian winter, but NASA scientists are hopeful that Phoenix may still awaken periodically and transmit signals to the space association’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.

A computer generated image of NASA's Phoenix lander in action Image: NASA

As the Martian spring returns – there are currently around 22 hours of sunlight every day – Odyssey has been listening for signals from Phoenix, but the lander has remained silent so far, returning nothing during the 60 overflights conducted from 22-26 February.

A final attempt will be made between 5 and 9 April, when Phoenix will be illuminated constantly by the Sun.